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There’s no doubt that studying abroad is an exciting, life changing experience, but it can also be quite complicated. Before you can jet off on your adventures there are some big decisions that need to be made, this is a guide with tips and advice to help you with the most important of these decisions, including:
- Choosing where to go (Close to home vs. Farther afield)
- Choosing how long to go for (One semester vs. One year)
- Choosing when to go (Spring vs. Autumn/Fall)
Choosing where to go: Close to home vs. Farther afield
When it comes to choosing the destination for your studies abroad, it can be difficult to decide just how far you want to go. On the one hand, staying quite close to home has many advantages, such as being near enough for family visits, cheaper flights, and less of a culture shock. On the other hand, although journeying to the other side of the world may be expensive and emotionally challenging, the adventurer within you might just find itself wanting to go ahead and do it anyway.
First, it is important to know that wherever you go, whether it is the neighboring country or 10,000 miles away, it’s highly likely that you will have the time of your life. So don’t stress about it too much!
If you’re not one of those who are really certain already of how far they want to go, and you are struggling to come to a decision, it’s probable that your confusion will fall into one of two categories. These categories are comparison, and self-doubt.
For example, you might feel like you would like to stay somewhere closer to home, but you feel uncertain and slightly pressured because of all of the people travelling further afield. This means your decision is much more difficult because you are comparing your destination with someone else’s. Maybe you see photos from people on their semester abroad on the other side of the world, along with their wanderlust quote captions, and it makes you feel annoyed because you don’t really want to travel that far but ‘maybe you should.’ If this is the case, then my advice would be don’t choose somewhere far away just to say you did it. Staying closer to home won’t make your semester any less exciting or wonderful, so stop thinking about other people and go with your gut feeling.
However, if you fall into the second category, perhaps when you look at those kind of photos, you are envious, and deep down you crave adventure; you just want to pack your bags and go explore somewhere far, far away, but there’s something stopping you. You nearly make the decision to just do it, but you get a bit scared, you start to worry about whether you will cope so far away on your own, for so long. If fears about homesickness, loneliness, learning to live independently, or being in a diverse culture far away from people that speak your language are the things that are stopping you from following your gut feelings, then you are doubting yourself. Yes, it’s true that it will be new and strange and difficult, but you can do it. Spending a semester abroad so far away will allow you to grow, you will find yourself capable of even more than you thought you were. Don’t be afraid to push your own limits; to leave your comfort zone is to expand your comfort zone.
Choosing how long to go for: One semester vs. One year
Once you have decided where you would like to go, the next question is, ‘for how long?’
Some people choose to study for one semester only, some go for a year, and sometimes it is even possible to split a year and do a semester each in two different locations. It is true that there are pros and cons to each of these choices, so we will break them down into a table to make it easier to decide which option is best for you:
|Pros||Cons||Best for you if…|
|Studying abroad for one semester only||There’s less chance of getting homesick, and you will save money. Plus, one semester is still long enough to be able to experience life in another culture, and significantly improve your language skills.||Your time will go very fast, and it may seem like you have to leave just as soon as you have settled in.||You get homesick easily and/or you are on a tight budget, but you still crave the opportunity to get out and explore another part of the world- even if it’s just for a little while. (Short but sweet!)|
|Studying abroad for one year||You will have the opportunity to not only experience life in another culture, but also fully immerse yourself in it, gaining a fantastic understanding of the local people and their language; you will also make long-lasting friendships.||Staying for one year will be significantly more expensive, and it is likely that you will experience homesickness.||You don’t mind being away from home for too long, you have a significant budget, and you’d really like to get to know the place you are staying in and learn to live (and speak!) like a local.|
|Splitting a year abroad between two different places||Splitting the year means a combination of the pros from one semester and one year: it is a chance to visit and get to know TWO different cultures, and also involves the opportunity to practice and improve two different languages!||This is definitely the most expensive option! The likelihood of homesickness depends on where you choose to spend your time in between the two semesters. There is also a chance that it will feel as though you must leave and start again just as soon as you have settled into your first location.||You have a sufficient budget, you don’t mind hopping around from country to country, and you’re a greedy explorer that can’t decide between two places or two languages; you just have to experience them both!|
Choosing when to go: Spring vs. Autumn/Fall
If you happen to choose to study abroad for one semester only, you will also have to choose whether it would be best to start studies in the Spring or the Autumn/Fall.
The first piece of advice is to do with weather and climate, a top tip is check the seasons in your chosen destination! If you are travelling to the opposite hemisphere, the seasons will be opposite to yours, with their Summer being your Winter and vice versa. And, watch out for areas with a rainy season or monsoon season, such as India, Southeast Asia, and parts of Australia, Brazil, and Central America.
After checking these things, the decision really comes down to personal preference, would you prefer a semester abroad in a cooler climate, with lots winter jackets, boots, and scarves? Or, would you like a sunnier semester, when you can revise outdoors? Just make sure that you take weather extremes into account, idealistically a semester of sunbathing or skiing may sound great, but make sure you are realistic about the temperatures, you don’t want it to get so hot or so cold that you spend your time being uncomfortable.
The second piece of advice is to do with whether the Spring or Fall semester is the first or second semester at your chosen institution. (Make sure you check because semester schedules are different all around the world!) General exchange student experiences suggest that the first semester is a good time for going out, partying and socializing, and the second semester is better for those who wish to take their studies a bit more seriously.
For help with any other decisions you might need to make, there are plenty of online study abroad communities that can help you! And if you would like to check out some year abroad experience articles, check out the author’s blog: Aspire to Amble (Originally from the UK, she spent an entire year studying abroad in South America: one semester in Uruguay, one semester in Brazil!)